I propose to take Questions Nos. 630 and 639 together.
The experiences of persons whose births were illegally registered, incorrectly registered or who were illegally adopted, were not excluded from the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters).
The Terms of Reference for the Commission were developed in accordance with the legislative requirements of the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004, and agreed by Government. The draft Government Order to establish the Commission was also approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The overarching objective in developing the terms of reference was to establish a Commission capable of providing a full account of what happened in these institutions over the period 1922-1998.
The Terms of Reference were focused on a combination of four distinct factors:
- Clarifying that the intended focus is on single women and children being accommodated for the purpose of receiving extended and supervised maternity and infant care services in Mother and Baby Homes;
- Defining the specific issues of public concern as discrete matters to be investigated;
- Specifying a list of Mother and Baby Homes and, in addition, providing for examination of equivalent experiences within the network of County Homes;
- Defining the relevant period as being from 1922 to 1998, while allowing the Commission to reduce the “relevant period” in respect of any component part or institution if it considers it appropriate to do so.
Therefore, the approach taken provided for the intended clear and deliberate emphasis on the experiences of women and children who spent time in Mother and Baby Homes.
In examining the exit pathways of children, the Commission was required to investigate the nature of the relationship between Mother and Baby Homes and other key institutions – these included children’s homes; orphanages; and adoption societies. This involved the identification of patterns of referral and the practices and arrangements for the placement of children. It also included where an intermediary organisation was involved in arranging a subsequent placement.
The examination was also to identify the extent to which children’s welfare and best interests were considered in making arrangements for their placement both here in Ireland and abroad. The Commission was further asked to identify the extent of mothers’ participation in such decisions, including procedures around mothers’ consent, and the extent to which these procedures were sufficient to ensure that consent was full, free and informed. The Commission was therefore provided with sufficient scope to examine the placing of children for adoption at home and abroad, as well as to examine situations in which the child’s parentage was concealed, either by omission or sometimes, by illegal means.
The Commission’s final Report addresses important questions in relation to the practices in place during the period under investigation. The Commission was able to cross-reference information from the institutional records, State records, testimony from witnesses and evidence from other sources.
It is accepted by all parties that, in the past, the arrangements for the placement of children often involved secretive practices, carried out without due regard to the rights of those involved. Such practices reflected wider societal prejudices of the time. Today, the safeguards in the adoption acts ensure that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration in all adoption cases, and in every step of the process.
Separate to the work of the Commission, I have just published an independent review report into incorrect birth registrations. This independent report was commissioned following Tulsa's discovery in early 2018 of evidence of illegal birth registrations in the files of the St. Patrick’s Guild adoption society.
While this review was unable to identify a unique marker suggestive of illegal birth registration in the sampled files I know significant concerns remain about the practice of illegal birth registrations. For that reason, I have asked the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection to consider the very significant complexities and challenges, including the deep ethical issues, which arise in relation to the issue of illegal birth registrations, and to propose an appropriate course of action.